Page 92 of Deception Point

Font Size:  

Through the darkness, a staccato burst from the nose of the chopper sent a torrent of bullets chewing across the Goya's fiberglass deck, slashing a line across the stern. Rachel dove for cover too late and felt the searing slash of a bullet graze her arm. She hit the ground hard, then rolled, scrambling to get behind the bulbous transparent dome of the Triton submersible.

A thundering of rotors exploded overhead as the chopper swooped past the ship. The noise evaporated with an eerie hiss as the chopper rocketed out over the ocean and began a wide bank for a second pass.

Lying trembling on the deck, Rachel held her arm and looked back at Tolland and Corky. Apparently having lunged to cover behind a storage structure, the two men were now staggering to their feet, their eyes scanning the skies in terror. Rachel pulled herself to her knees. The entire world suddenly seemed to be moving in slow motion.

Crouched behind the transparent curvature of the Triton sub, Rachel looked in panic toward their only means of escape-the Coast Guard helicopter. Xavia was already climbing into the chopper's cabin, frantically waving for everyone to get aboard. Rachel could see the pilot lunging into the cockpit, wildly throwing switches and levers. The blades began to turn... ever so slowly.

Too slowly.


Rachel felt herself standing now, preparing to run, wondering if she could make it across the deck before the attackers made another pass. Behind her, she heard Corky and Tolland dashing toward her and the waiting helicopter. Yes! Hurry!

Then she saw it.

A hundred yards out, up in the sky, materializing out of empty darkness, a pencil-thin beam of red light slanted across the night, searching the Goya's deck. Then, finding its mark, the beam came to a stop on the side of the waiting Coast Guard chopper.

The image took only an instant to register. In that horrific moment, Rachel felt all the action on the deck of the Goya blur into a collage of shapes and sounds. Tolland and Corky dashing toward her-Xavia motioning wildly in the helicopter-the stark red laser slicing across the night sky.

It was too late.

Rachel spun back toward Corky and Tolland, who were running full speed now toward the helicopter. She lunged outward into their path, arms outstretched trying to stop them. The collision felt like a train wreck as the three of them crashed to the deck in a tangle of arms and legs.

In the distance, a flash of white light appeared. Rachel watched in disbelief and horror as a perfectly straight line of exhaust fire followed the path of the laser beam directly toward the helicopter.

When the Hellfire missile slammed into the fuselage, the helicopter exploded apart like a toy. The concussion wave of heat and noise thundered across the deck as flaming shrapnel rained down. The helicopter's flaming skeleton lurched backward on its shattered tail, teetered a moment, and then fell off the back of the ship, crashing into the ocean in a hissing cloud of steam.

Rachel closed her eyes, unable to breathe. She could hear the flaming wreckage gurgling and sputtering as it sank, being dragged away from the Goya by the heavy currents. In the chaos, Michael Tolland's voice was yelling. Rachel felt his powerful hands trying to pull her to her feet. But she could not move.

The Coast Guard pilot and Xavia are dead.

We're next.


The weather on the Milne Ice Shelf had settled, and the habisphere was quiet. Even so, NASA administrator Lawrence Ekstrom had not even tried to sleep. He had spent the hours alone, pacing the dome, staring into the extraction pit, running his hands over the grooves in the giant charred rock.

Finally, he'd made up his mind.

Now he sat at the videophone in the habisphere's PSC tank and looked into the weary eyes of the President of the United States. Zach Herney was wearing a bathrobe and did not look at all amused. Ekstrom knew he would be significantly less amused when he learned what Ekstrom had to tell him.

When Ekstrom finished talking, Herney had an uncomfortable look on his face-as if he thought he must still be too asleep to have understood correctly.

"Hold on," Herney said. "We must have a bad connection. Did you just tell me that NASA intercepted this meteorite's coordinates from an emergency radio transmission-and then pretended that PODS found the meteorite?"

Ekstrom was silent, alone in the dark, willing his body to awake from this nightmare.

The silence clearly did not sit well with the President. "For Christ's sake, Larry, tell me this isn't true!"

Ekstrom's mouth went dry. "The meteorite was found, Mr. President. That is all that's relevant here."

"I said tell me this is not true!"

The hush swelled to a dull roar in Ekstrom's ears. I had to tell him, Ekstrom told himself. It's going to get worse before it gets better. "Mr. President, the PODS failure was killing you in the polls, sir. When we intercepted a radio transmission that mentioned a large meteorite lodged in the ice, we saw a chance to get back in the fight."

Herney sounded stunned. "By faking a PODS discovery?"

"PODS was going to be up and running soon, but not soon enough for the election. The polls were slipping, and Sexton was slamming NASA, so... "

"Are you insane! You lied to me, Larry!"

"The opportunity was staring us in the face, sir. I decided to take it. We intercepted the radio transmission of the Canadian who made the meteorite discovery. He died in a storm. Nobody else knew the meteorite was there. PODS was orbiting in the area. NASA needed a victory. We had the coordinates."

"Why are you telling me this now?"

"I thought you should know."

"Do you know what Sexton would do with this information if he found out?"

Ekstrom preferred not to think about it.

"He'd tell the world that NASA and the White House lied to the American people! And you know what, he'd be right!"

"You did not lie, sir, I did. And I will step down if-"

"Larry, you're missing the point. I've tried to run this presidency on truth and decency! Goddamn it! Tonight was clean. Dignified. Now I find out I lied to the world?"

"Only a small lie, sir."

"There's no such thing, Larry," Herney said, steaming.

Ekstrom felt the tiny room closing in around him. There was so much more to tell the President, but Ekstrom could see it should wait until morning. "I'm sorry to have woken you, sir. I just thought you should know."

Across town, Sedgewick Sexton took another hit of cognac and paced his apartment with rising irritation.

Where the hell is Gabrielle?


Gabrielle Ashe sat in the darkness at Senator Sexton's desk and gave his computer a despondent scowl.

Invalid Password - Access Denied

She had tried several other passwords that seemed likely possibilities, but none had worked. After searching the office for any unlocked drawers or stray clues, Gabrielle had all but given up. She was about to leave when she spotted something odd, shimmering on Sexton's desk calendar. Someone had outlined the date of the election in a red, white, and blue glitter pen. Certainly not the senator. Gabrielle pulled the calendar closer. Emblazoned across the date was a frilly, glittering exclamation: POTUS!

Sexton's ebullient secretary had apparently glitterpainted some more positive thinking for him for election day. The acronym POTUS was the U.S. Secret Service's code name for President of the United States. On election day, if all went well, Sexton would become the new POTUS.

Preparing to leave, Gabrielle realigned the calendar on his desk and stood up. She paused suddenly, glancing back at the computer screen.

Enter Password:_

She looked again at the calendar.